Stoic feminists: all mouth, no toga?

Socrates had Diotima and Aspasia, The Academy had Axiothea and Lasthenia, the Cynics had Hipparchia, and the Hellenistic Pythagoreans had Perictione I and II, Miya, Theano, and a few more. But the Stoics are the ones who are known as proto-feminists, with hints  in Zeno’s Republic and in texts by Musonius Rufus on the equality of the sexes as far as virtue, and the need to study philosophy is concerned.

So where are the Stoic women?

This is a question we may ask during Stoic week, an online project culminating in a one day workshop in London.


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5 Responses to Stoic feminists: all mouth, no toga?

  1. What about Porcia Catonis, Cato’s daughter?

  2. Sandrine Berges says:

    Thanks. Was she a philosopher? Or perhaps was she practicing the Stoic lifestyle? The story about her death by swallowing coals, which may fit with some stoic ideas about death (though I’m not sure) seems to be made up much later, and it appears that she died of the plague. Admittedly I couldn’t find much at all about her. I’d be grateful if you shared any info you have on her.

  3. It’s possible she would have been called a philosopher, in the sense that Cato was. We’re told she studied philosophy and that she very much took after her father, perhaps suggesting it was specifically Stoicism she embraced. Cato had a Stoic teacher in his household, and given what Musonius Rufus says about their attitude toward training women in philosophy, it’s plausible her father encouraged her to study Stoicism. Plutarch tells another anecdote about her demonstrating mastery over pain by cutting her leg, to prove to her husband Brutus she wouldn’t break under torture. Particularly in the context of the other remarks about taking after after her father, etc., that does sound like she’s being portrayed as a female Stoic.

  4. Sandrine Berges says:

    Thanks for this! It suggests to me that there might have been other, less high profile women stoics, who were stoics in the sense that they read philosophy, and lived a certain way. It’s also significant as far as the early stoa were concerned that as they met in the Agora, they were a lot less likely to have female followers. The family life atmosphere of Roman stoicism, by contrast, would have made it possible for women to join in.

  5. By coincidence, I’ve just been reading The Reign of the Stoics by Holland and he has Porcia down there as an example of a lady Stoic in his sketch of famous figures at the start of the book. It does suggest that there may have been other female Stoics, when combined with those lectures by Musonius. Zeno did say men and women would be treated as equals, and would even dress the same, in his ideal Republic, which perhaps suggests it would have seemed a bit hypocritical for him to turn them away as students. Maybe we’ll never know, though.

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